When the Yankees made the trade for Jaime Garcia before the non-waiver trade deadline this summer, they were making the deal for a ground ball pitcher with a 4.29 ERA to fit in the back of their rotation. Since then, the Yankees have not gotten the player they thought they were getting, and it hasn’t worked out quite well. They probably want a do-over right about now.
Over these five starts with his third team in 2017, Garcia hasn’t been a reliable backend starter at all. He has a 5.11 ERA, his walks are up, his strikeouts are down, and his home run and fly ball rates have skyrocketed. This is not the guy the Yankees traded for; this is a completely different pitcher.
If we dive into what’s going on with him, it appears that he’s throwing more pitches per inning, he’s throwing fewer for strikes, and his batted ball rate is nothing like his career norm. His ground ball rate—the bread and butter of Jaime Garcia’s career—has dropped to a career low 48.4%. At the same time, his fly ball rate of 31.3% is up past his career rate. It’s helped to create an astronomically high 20% HR/FB rate, when it’s typically sat under 12%.
One major reason behind all this change is his pitch usage. For some reason, Garcia is throwing his sinker—the pitch that generates all those ground balls—just 22.4% of the time with the Yankees, which is the lowest it has been since his rookie season. Meanwhile, he’s relying on his changeup almost 9% more often than his career average, and his slider usage is up as well. I have no idea if this is his decision, some kind of scouting-based play, or his catcher’s fault. Regardless, it’s not working.
Another reason for the changes is the loss of velocity he’s experienced recently. Since his time with the Braves this season, Garcia has lost at least half a mile per hour on every one of his pitches. It’s closer to a full mile per hour on his changeup and slider. This may not sound like much, but for any pitcher—especially the ones who don’t have a power fastball—a drop in velocity can mean the difference between a 91 mph strikeout pitch and a 90 mph meatball. Jaime Garcia doesn’t rely on velocity to get outs, but it sure does help.
As a result of these changes, he’s suffering from control issues and is generating the fewest first-pitch strikes since 2010. When you add that to batters making more contact on balls that do make it into the strike zone, it’s easy to see that hitters are teeing off on him. It’s a problem that harkens back to the drop in velocity. The pitch isn’t traveling the exact way it’s supposed to—it’s slower—and it ends up getting hit. There’s a reason why his 1.78 WHIP is a career high.
As of now, he’s thrown 24.2 innings in five starts, which averages out to less than five innings per game. Yesterday, his one earned run in five innings of work actually proved to be his best performance for the Yankees to date—and that’s kind of pathetic. For all the troubling statistics he’s put up in his time in the Bronx, Garcia’s one goal should be giving this team distance when he’s on the mound. He still hasn’t managed to get through six innings, though, and that’s a problem.
If the Yankees are simply going to get five innings of anywhere between two and five runs, Garcia might as well stay home. He needs to be able to go at least six, which is something he’s generally been able to do this year. The problem is that the Yankees have a good bullpen, so Joe Girardi is more inclined to pull him early. It’s clear that he doesn’t trust Garcia to clean up his own messes, and whether his decisions are right or wrong, it’s eventually going to burn up the bullpen.
It would be nice to say that the Yankees can simply plug in another starter in his place, but the whole reason they got him in the first place was because they had nobody else. Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell have proven to be useless, Chance Adams isn’t getting called up in 2017, and it’s far too late in the season to ask Adam Warren to become a starter again. With Jordan Montgomery running on fumes at this point, all the Yankees can hope is that they can get by. It’s too bad they had to trade something of value to get that kind of return.